STAMFORD — The Stamford Board of Education voted 2-1 on Thursday to deny a grievance by the city’s teachers union alleging that Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Amy Beldotti violated board policy by failing to involve teachers in the decision to change high school scheduling beginning next fall.
The grievance was spurred by a proposal to transition the current high school schedules to what is called a 4×4 hybrid block schedule — a model which schedules students to attend 90-minute sections of the same four classes each day for the fall semester, and then switch to four new classes for the spring.
In the grievance hearing on Thursday, Stamford Education Association PR&R Chair Guy Semon claimed that the board had violated a policy that states that the Board “will encourage employee participation in decision-making for the school district.”
The policy cites five categories for which employees should be consulted for decision making: curriculum, operational issues, budget, facilities planning and personnel. Semon said that he considered a schedule change to fall under the category of “operations.”
Board of Education Chair Jackie Heftman said the policy dates back to 2015, when the board approved the measure in response to emails from school staff that their opinions had not been taken into consideration by past superintendents.
“Before the Board Of Education adopts a policy, it wants to be sure that there was participatory input from the people who would be affected,” explained Heftman.
Christopher Soules, the director of Human Resources for the district, offered a rebuttal to the complaint, arguing that because the board itself had not adopted a policy on block scheduling, no policy had been violated.
Beldotti said that teachers were part of nearly every decision that the district makes, and that they take part in many committees that consider different aspects of what goes on in the high schools.
“I think all of that speaks to our commitment to have teachers not just as part of the process but really driving much of what happens in our high schools,” said Beldotti.
But Semon said that there was a difference between providing feedback and being actively involved in the decision-making process — which, he said, the policy calls for.
Semon asked that a committee of teachers be formed to review the proposed change to a 4 x 4 schedule.
“We are not saying [the proposed schedule change] can’t be what it is now, but teachers have got to be involved. They are the ones that have to implement it. They are the ones that have to live with it every day,” he said.
Soule replied that board policy was not intended to take away the ability of administrators to make the final decision on scheduling.
“I think there came a point here that a decision needed to be made and that decision ,the decision itself, properly rests with the administration,” he said.
A post-COVID schedule
The district has been considering changes to the high school schedule since 2013. Although both sides acknowledged that teachers had participated in discussions about scheduling changes in the past, representatives for SEA said the decision to move to the 4×4 block schedule, which Beldotti presented to the Board in January, came as a surprise.
Beldotti, who joined the district in 2019, said teachers had been involved in discussion for years before she came into the district, and that there had been block scheduling committees that had spent years debating the schedules, without agreeing on a schedule.
SEA president Diane Phanos said that teachers at Stamford High School and Westhill High School had been charged with devising an agreeable schedule in 2019, but that everything came to a halt during COVID.
Sharon Quinn, the union’s uniserv representative, said that when COVID hit, “everything went silent” until January 2022, when Beldotti presented the 4 x 4 block schedule to the board.
But Beldotti said that the schedules suggested by the teachers no longer met student needs in the wake of the pandemic, particularly with the district’s new involvement with initiatives like Career Pathways.
“Where we were in 2020 when we shut down schools and where we are now — the world is a very different place,” said Beldotti. “A 4×4 hybrid really gives us the most flexibility to meet the academic and social emotional needs of our students.”
In her motion to deny the grievance, Heftman said that although the policy as currently written doesn’t apply in this case, the board’s policy committee would revisit how the policy was written. She said the board committee believed in the importance of “participatory management.”
Board member Becky Hamman, who voted against denying the grievance, said she believed that the board should encourage participation in decision-making, and that she was disturbed by the teachers’ frustration about the proposed schedule.
“What happens is you create distrust,” she said. “And so I can’t support this.”
Beldotti said that the administration would continue asking for teacher input about implementing the new schedule, including the logistics of how courses will be run.
“I think we have many years of evidence that teachers have been and will continue to be part of the process,” she said.